In the Kitchen
He’s taking care of a woman who is dying, she wants
to complete everything:
the weeds in the garden, the accounting, even
new pillows for the couch.
In the summer sunlight she transplants hostas and scatters
bread crumbs for the wood ducks
while pulling a tank dealing chemo through a cord attached
to her heart.
He makes sandwiches in the kitchen, each cucumber carefully peeled,
diced and dusted
with fresh dill on small squares of bread. For days now,
he holds himself together making omelettes and salmon, sharpening
his Japanese knives
slicing onions, olives and endive, melons and mint, proclaiming out loud:
I was supposed to die first.
When I arrived they were away at the Mayo Clinic. My father’s shaky hand left
little notes all around
the clean counters: more tea on top shelf, boil water in stainless pot, use potholder,
handle gets hot.
Back home at night, the chemo tank wakes her, Pandora’s Box unleashing
voices, ogres, hallucinations
and a holy nightmare of unfinished missions. And yet there are moments
in the evening
sitting on the screened porch, sipping a glass of wine, seeing a glimpse
through the trees, and the ducks gliding on the pond, when they know this, this
Review by Jared Pearce
The images and emotions pull well on the lines and on the reader. The movement from the work, the care, the frustration, to the final acceptance is a fine compression. What I find interesting is that the patient does not speak or even feel (though some implications are allowed by the images)—this is a poem about how illness and death matter less to the ill and dying and more to the survivors. And being so, it is beautiful.
Review by Claire Scott
A sad and beautiful poem that I, along with many others, can relate to. The dying mother focusing on the details of her life to avoid impending death. I love the details: “she transplants hostas and scatters/bread crumbs.” And then the sharp reminder that she has a chemo tank attached to her heart. The description of the husband is really moving. His attention to detail while at the same time he is forgetting, and leaving himself notes. I love the notes, tied to day to day living.
And the heartbreak of a man who thought he would die first. I also like Pandora’s Box of “voices, ogres, hallucinations.” My only thought is that the ending ( this, this is enough”) feels a bit obvious. It has been said many times. Maybe something a bit fresher to end this lovely poem.
Review by Mary Giudice
Sometimes all you can do in the face of sorrow and loss is make a cucumber sandwich with every detail perfect. I’m moved by the story of this man who moves around in the domestic sphere with such grace as he bears the relentlessly common task of living out the end with someone. There is both despair and beauty here, and Doctor keeps masterful tension between those two truths. The nightmare words, “dying”, “chemo”, “hallucinations”, “clinic”, “ogres” live side by side with “sunlight”, “garden”, “melons and mint”, and an evening glass of wine. Together. All the flavors in this poem were especially evocative for me. It almost seems wrong that olives and endive would still be delicious in such circumstances, but there goes the body betraying the heart again.